If you ask me, “Where are you from?” I stumble a bit and then say, “South Carolina.” I wasn’t born there, but South Carolina is where I grew up, from age 2 to 17. On my recent trip back to the Low Country, the thick air just about burst with rain from the humidity, but it didn’t, not for days, just as I remember. The occasional faint stirrings of air raised the perfume of pinesap and the must of oak leaves, everyday smells of home. Billboards announce NASCAR, Pentecostal church services, and all-you-can-eat BBQ line roads, as they always have despite Lady Bird Johnson’s protestations. Savory pimento cheese on toast brings back the thrill of a drug store lunch alone with my mother, reserved for special occasions. At twilight, the cacophony of cicadas, crickets, and frogs recalled every night of my childhood.
Today I live in Portland, Oregon, a city I love and that feels like home. I love cool gray mornings bearing rain so delicate that it takes twenty minutes to bead and roll off my jacket. Fleece vests and wool socks keep me warm while cool wet air flows through the open windows. I can’t wait for the summer and the uniquely sweet Hood strawberries and juicy Hermiston melons. Most spectacular though, my everyday view is of the Willamette River backed by Douglas firs punching into the blue-gray above the horizon.
Both of these landscapes figure prominently in the pieces I write. My current novel is set in the Low Country, as is the next planned novel; several short stories and many poems are set in the Northwest.
So how do I answer the question, “Are you a Southern writer?” I think I am a Southern writer. But I think I also am a writer of the Northwest.
What do you think? Am I a Southern writer who lives somewhere else or a writer from the Pacific Northwest who also writes about the South? Talk to me.
Are you a writer with multiple geographic identity?